Another media circus around a non-event has ended, with no tangible outcome to show from the high-profile meetings variously between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush in New York. Positions well-known have been reiterated, though pundits distinguish 'subtle shifts' and apparent hardening or softening of perspectives reflected in nuance and suggestions, otherwise unnoticeable to the uninitiated.
The fact, as far as South Asia, the trajectory of terror and conflict in this region, and its 'peace processes' are concerned, is that nothing whatsoever happened in the New York 'summit' meetings, or in the ritual declamations at the United Nations General Assembly.
It is, however, on the sidelines of orchestrated diplomatic intercourse that the truth sometimes, accidentally, manifests itself; or, perhaps, escapes from the confinement of political postures, practiced falsehood and the banal scripts drafted for leaders by their underlings.
The most significant development, in this context, emerged from an apparent irrelevancy - the Pakistani dictator's chance (and extraordinarily obnoxious) remark on rape victims in Pakistan - revealing a mindset deeply rooted in a feudal and revanchist orthodoxy that militates against his loudly proclaimed pretensions to 'enlightened moderation'. As a storm of protest built up against the General's lack of enlightenment, Musharraf did precisely what he does best - he changed his colours, claiming that his statement had been 'misrepresented'. While the US Administration will, naturally, ignore this 'unofficial' faux pas [the Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, however, did take very official note of the statement] and continue to insist, as Condoleezza Rice did, that India needs to make 'some concessions' on Kashmir because Musharraf 'needed something to take back home', the General's obtuse remarks have not passed unnoticed in the US media, or 'back home', and will certainly erode his inexplicable stature and image in the US, and will eventually make continued support to the regime at Islamabad at least marginally more difficult for Washington.
Musharraf's disingenuous admission regarding A.Q. Khan's role in nuclear proliferation will also have a slow but corrosive fallout. Here again, he has been actively helped and protected by the US Administration and an amazingly compliant - if not servile - American Press that has kept the controversy over the Pakistani role in nuclear proliferation limited to North Korea, ignoring the much wider sphere of such activities, including Pakistan's supply of nuclear technologies to Iran - America's current bugbear. Washington has also helped keep alive the fiction that Khan was some sort of free agent peddling centrifuges across the world without state sanction, but Islamabad's complicity - and the survival in power of most of those who were involved in the structure of proliferation - is already widely known, and will, eventually, penetrate the insular American mind.
More immediately indicative of Pakistan's trajectory of failure, however, is the rising criticism 'back home', not only of his performance at New York, but the general trend of developments in the country, particularly the rapid deepening of military consolidation, the systematic deconstruction of the institutional and political framework of civil governance and democracy, and the widening sphere of disorder and violence, that bode ill for the country's medium- and long-term future, though they may create an immediate illusion of stability. Indeed, on the New York excursion, one prominent Pakistani commentator noted, "…what the hell is a president, ceremonious (sic) by constitution, doing in New York playing dice with our diplomatic future when we have a supposedly elected prime minister sitting at home uttering unconvincing platitudes about the welfare of the economy, while over 70 percent of the population is finding it hard to keep their heads above the water." [Iqbal Mustafa in The News, September 18, 2005). Reiterating the point, another commentator observed, "The very fact that he is in New York brings the question of his democratic legitimacy into bold relief, and gives the lie to his claim that Pakistan has been put back on the democratic rails with a functioning 'democratic government' led by a 'Prime Minister'." [Tarique Niazi, South Asian Tribune, September 15, 2005]
There are other and broad themes in Pakistani political, economic, social and cultural trends that will worry Musharraf and those in the 'international community' who have pinned all their hopes on the dictator's enterprise to 'restore democracy' and 'enlightenment' to his benighted country. The most significant of these is the continued subversion of the electoral process, once again abundantly visible in the mock elections organised for local councils, which were marked by the "re-drawing of constituency lines, widespread harassment of opposition candidates in the pre-poll scenario and poor arrangements on polling day", demonstrating "a determination to prevent people from participating in the political process". Activists in Pakistan have also noted the malicious targeting of non-governmental organisations - Musharraf's 'rape' remarks were, in fact, part of this campaign - growing intolerance, increasing violence against minorities, and the rising graph of sectarian terrorism and separatist militancy in the provinces.
Commentators have also noted Pakistan's 'humiliation', as per capita income and growth rates slip behind India's, when, "just imagine, till 1994 Pakistan was well ahead of India" on these parameters. And for all the sham of the General's bluff military manner, Transparency International's latest corruption index puts Pakistan down at 129, among the most corrupt of the 146 countries listed.
And while, at New York, Musharraf insisted that "we need to understand and address the motives behind terrorist acts", and sought to create emotive analogies between the Kashmir and Palestine conflicts, the Indian Prime Minister made it abundantly clear that "We must not yield any space to terrorism. We must firmly reject any notion that there is any cause that justifies it. No cause could ever justify the indiscriminate killing of innocent men, women and children." Singh added, further, "Our belief is that Pakistan still controls the flow of terrorism and they must stop it for any realistic progress."
It is against this backdrop that the charade of talks and declarations in New York needs to be assessed. This includes Musharraf's insistence on troop withdrawal from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) - with further clarifications from Pakistan's Ambassador to the US, Jahangir Karamat, that such a dilution of the Army's presence should occur in Kupwara and Baramulla, two of the districts worst affected by terrorism, contiguous to the Line of Control (LoC), and located on some of the primary infiltration routes used by the terrorists. This demand comes against the backdrop of a significant escalation in violence in June and July 2005, though August has seen the figures drop somewhat. India's foreign policy, however, cannot be framed against the context of every transient peak and trough of violence in J&K and must, in fact, relate to the continued existence of the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan, and to assessments of Pakistan's long-term intent and strategy, neither of which give any cause for sanguinity.
Unconfirmed sources suggest that US pressure on India during the Prime Minister's sojourn in New York sought concessions that Musharraf 'needed' precisely on the issue of troop reduction in J&K. If this be the case, it is sad commentary on the US Administration's understanding of terrorism and the imperatives of counter-terrorism responses, of the situation and balance in South Asia in particular, as well as on its commitment to a truly global and comprehensive war against terrorism. The unending hyphenation of the US relationship with India and Pakistan, and the persistent proclivity to impose parity between a demonstrable sponsor of terrorism and a nation that has been its primary victim and that has fought the world's war against terrorism for decades without recognition, cannot produce the transformations that South Asia needs. Worse, it condemns Pakistan to pathways on which its own ruination is predestined.
Ajai Sahni- Editor, SAIR; Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management